31 August, 2007

Happy Hugday!

Passing on this video to celebrate Colin Beaven's (No Impact Man) birthday and your, my, everybody's Hugday. Celebrate with somebody soon.

30 August, 2007

Bette's Bread

Bette's Sourdough Almond and Honey Loaf from
The Gluten-free Gourmet Bakes Bread

I've said it before. I love bread. It's one of my top three food loves. It may be number 1. Right before 2. potatoes, and 3. avocados. It's often called the "Staff of Life". It is a staff that I've leaned on heavily over the years. It was the mainstay of school lunches for my family when they were growing up. And it's the partner for a lot of other good foods. What's soup without the bread to dip into it? What's an LT sandwich without the bread to embrace the juicy tomatoes? What's breakfast without toast? I love toast for breakfast so much that it was a chore for awhile to find something else I wanted to eat in the morning. Crispy toast, on it's own or with smoky black coffee, and a little seasonal fruit or jam. Mmmmm.

Bette's Sourdough Almond and Honey Bread, toasted and spread with sesame butter

But most breads are based on wheat. And this year I discovered that I'm allergic to wheat. Not a little allergy but one that gives me eczema that is so severe that I can't use my hands. They become itchy, cracked and sore. They get stiff so I can't bend the fingers and do a lot of things that are pretty simple for most. They hurt a lot, so that I'd become used to almost daily pain. And I'd suffered with that for most of my life, hoping for any cure. I found the problem after about half a century. Wheat. I cut it out. My hands healed and life was much better.

Except that I couldn't have bread. I couldn't buy a wheat-free bread in Japan. When I was back in Canada I tried a few breads that were okay, but nothing had that comfort that you get from a warm home-made loaf.

Then I found Gluten-free Girl, a website that talked about some of the symptoms of gluten intolerance. I started to recognize some of them and thought I would make a trial to see if it would help some other symptoms I had. Surprisingly, my chronic eczema cleared up. Migraine headaches all but disappeared. Because I felt better, I tried to eliminate gluten from my life. And because I still loved and missed bread I looked on the web for recipes. I found a lot of references to The Gluten-Free Gourmet, Bette Hagman. I tracked her book down at Amazon Japan and ordered a copy.

It was the first gluten-free bread I ever truly enjoyed. Recently I have been able to get a gluten-free flour mix from Kinnikinnik foods that works wonderfully in the recipes. This past month I have baked three batches of different breads from Bette's recipes. I enjoy this bread so much and I'm very thankful to Bette for her work in developing good breads with a bite and texture that is enjoyable. And they are great toasted.

I was sad to hear of her passing. I am very thankful to her for making bread possible for me again and for millions of others who are using her recipes or adapting her methods to improve life for the gluten-free community. For we who love bread and are nourished by it, Bette is The Staff of Life. A good legacy, I think.

28 August, 2007

If I Can't Stand the Heat

Lately my posting of recipes has fallen off a little. It's not because I'm not as hungry as ever. It's not because I don't want to try all the tantalizing recipes I see posted on all of your blogs. No. Food bloggers from all over the world seem to have gone into overdrive with the cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables available this time of year. Their creativity is boundless. I read their blogs and my mouth waters for lovely fresh breads, idlis and sauces, tortillas with black beans, fresh tofu yoghurt with seasonal fruit. It all looks so good, and I am mentally taking notes and clicking bookmarks as fast as my fingers can fly.

I want to make inspired soups, light and angelic tofu patties, creamy dals to serve over brown rice, salads of champions, chocolate-y cookies and puddings, velvety tofu ice creams, refreshing ices. I want to make them all, but two things are stopping me. 1.) I'm on a diet so have to be a bit judicious in my selections and 2) It's hotter than a hoppin' mad Mad Hatter in my kitchen right now. In the 90's and that's before I begin to cook. So, except for brief forays in there to rustle up something quick and easy, I've had to get out of the kitchen.

Breakfast has become my favourite meal. It's still not too hot in the kitchen before the sun rounds the trees in the front garden at 8:00. If I get there before that I can make something I want to eat. Most times lately that's been a salad of seasonal lettuces, baby greens, tomatoes, maybe with some ready-cooked soy beans, or sometimes sweet red beans, thrown in a bowl helter-skelter with whatever fresh vegetables I have close at hand. Sometimes cucumbers, or a red and green pepper, onions, spinach, apple cubes, a few raisins, apple cider vinegar, a shake of sea salt, grindings of fresh black pepper, a smidge of olive or sesame oil, or once in awhile a slosh of the very tasty bottled "non-oil " shiso dressing that we can get in grocery stores here. To me it's one of the great food finds in Japan. Shiso is an herb with an astringent and slightly spicy addictive flavour. If I ever get to where I can't get shiso I might be in trouble. Think I'd better hunt up a seed packet or two as insurance.

Another breakfast I like and the one I just finished, is organic genmai (brown rice) in a bowl, topped with a few tablespoons of ground sesame seeds (whole are okay too) and topped also with a square of silken tofu, a few grains of sea salt, black pepper, and a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil. It's very, very good. Sometimes I guild it with some grilled Shitake mushrooms, pumpkin slices. onion, and small peppers roasted whole. They're great to make because I can just pop them on the grill and then leave the kitchen for 20 minutes, come back and give them a quick flip and they're done.

This morning I topped off the meal with a lovely yellow peach. They are just peaking in the stores now. If you hurry you can get one or two. The price is outrageous, but for a person living abroad for years, to bite into this quintessential juicy fruit is to go back to summers at home, when your mom picked up a basket of these at the local farm market because she loved them so much, and you had to move fast to get one or two out of there before she or your little sister, who loved them just as much, made them disappear right before your eyes. And now, sticky juice still on your cheeks, you stop for two minutes to take a picture of the almost-demolished fruit, so you can write this post for yourself and your memories of a mother and sister that you rarely get to see these days, and never get to eat peaches with.

I love food. I always will. I was gifted that love by my grandmother who made Sunday pies for years, as a way to gather her family after church. Her pride in the good food she made, and her love came through in the making and sharing of it with her family and community. For most of her life she was unable to show that love in other ways. She grew up in a time and a place where parents didn't show physical affection. She never hugged her daughters until she was well into her 60's, perhaps even older. I know, because I started the family hugging. Through embarrassment and gruffness, turning away, and pooh-poohing I held on until they gave in. Then started to expect it, then began to hug first. Then hugged so tight and so long you could hardly get your breath. I still remember some of the last hugs my grandmother gave me when we parted, after my grandfather died. They were emotional, and maybe a little healing for us both. I will always remember the love she put into her Sunday pies, muffins, cakes, pickles, jam, and homemade canned peaches. I think I'm here because of that love.

23 August, 2007

(Vegetarian) Friends*

Perhaps old news (from 2004) but new to me and so great I'm putting up a link to the story of two (vegetarian) friends, a 130 year old tortoise and a baby hippo, Owen and MZee. Follow the link, click on "watch the documentary" and then choose a bandwidth under the picture box on the top left.

Highly recommended for family viewing, and producing smiles.

*This post specially dedicated to my two nieces, H. and K., who love animals.

18 August, 2007

Intrepid Anthony Bourdain (Vegetarian Unfriendly post)

Anthony Bourdain may have one of the most disgusting shows on television. In fact he makes it a point to search out strange, exotic foods and that often/always includes eating parts of animals that you didn't even know they had. Or of animals that you never heard of, and after watching the show, never want to meet. You certainly won't be searching out a lot of the food he shows. Some of it is only available in remote corners of the world, but even if it were in the local supermarket, you wouldn't want to pick it up, and say boil it in a big vat for two days before you roasted it in a sauce that took you three more days to make, and then sit it out to"season" (rot) for a few more, before you spread it on some kind of bread. The show is half travel, and food culture, and half horror. Yet, it's mesmerizing. And the guy is so interesting you want to tune in next week just to see what he's up to. Probably he has a lifetime gig here, if he wants it.

If you live in the world outside Japan, you surely know who he is. He's an American, ex-chef of long experience, turned TV star, writer and journalist. Some call him a "rock chef". He's opinionated and reputedly doesn't like vegetarians. He thinks it's impolite to refuse food that someone is offering you, and I have some sympathy with that view.

He also looks better than any chain-smoking, over-eating, constantly-travelling, forty-something (I presume) has a right to. In fact he looks spectacular. Looking at him you are aware of just how good those Classical genes can be. He literally can't take a bad shot, even in hot sweaty harrowing conditions, like when he's eating strange disgusting foods in the middle of deserts, and almost gagging them up. But not usually gagging them up, because he's too polite. He's invariably charming to the people he meets who are his hosts on food adventures around the world. At least on camera. But I suspect off-camera, too. This man has more energy and verve than 50 other non-smoking vegetarians trying earnestly to live good healthy lives. (Like me.) He's obviously on to something.

Could the magic ingredient be fun? Has he found out what turns him on and managed to market it to the rest of the world? Certainly seems he's tapped into the Serendipity Muse. Each day looks like he is squeezing out all the joy he possibly can, like an endless party, the kind we had in college before the "real jobs" sucked up all the possibilities and receding horizons. Whatever it is, I want some more of that in my life. I'm not about to start eating animal body parts, or chain-smoking my way around the world, being followed by a camera crew. But, I can watch the show, guilty pleasure that it is. And I can plan a few more adventures of my own.

14 August, 2007

Sourdough Sesame (&Poppy) Bean Bread Tomato Sandwich

Falling for the gorgeous loaf of Bette Hagman's Sesame Bean Bread on Book of Yum, I decided to replenish my bread supply with this one. Besides using the Kinni-Kwik Bread and Bun Mix I mentioned in an earlier post, I only changed the recipe by adding a Tb. or so of poppy as well as the sesame seeds called for, and using 2 cups of sourdough starter made with part brown-rice flour, as well as 1 tsp of dry fast-acting yeast. I used 4 tsp. of a thick blackstrap molasses that I may cut back to 3 the next time, as I found the bread just a shade too molasses-y in flavour, but still very, very good. This loaf was not as high as in Seamaiden's picture but it was plenty high enough to slice for sandwiches. The rest is in the freezer, safer than leaving it on the counter where I want to nibble on it every time I go past.

I made a gorgeous breakfast sandwich, none too fancy-looking, so the gorgeous I mean is the taste. Organic mustard and a smidge of mayo, mixed and spread on each slice of bread. Ripe, juicy, tender tomatoes from the farmer's market, along with a stuffing of the garlic-chives we get here, a healthy dose of cracked black pepper, and just a few grains of sea salt led to two or three huge expectant bites that were not taken in vain. Happy we are together now, in the flesh.

12 August, 2007

Lovely Dish

From Louisiana a blog called Weekly Dish with very good writing and the kind of look that makes you feel like you're in a nice big country kitchen where some good cooking, and good thinking, are being done. A surrogate home away from home, this week with a recipe for a salad shared between sisters. The salad looks pretty good, but the real recipe here is love.

11 August, 2007

Bread Soup

In the recipes I checked they call this bread soup Riboletta. The name means "reboiled" because this soup is meant to sit overnight and get reheated the next day when the flavour has improved. I didn't have all the ingredients for a classic Riboletta, which often includes kale and other bitter greens. What I had was some cabbage, just the ordinary kind, and a few bits of rocket, the last, from my garden, a handful of parsley and some small not very hot green peppers. I grilled them and then de-seeded them and chopped them to add a bit of bitterness to the soup, used the organic cooked soybeans from Anew Organic Grocery, that I featured in a Product of the Week a few months back, onions, a shallot, new potatoes, and garlic sauteed in a bit of olive oil, though the recipe I found didn't call for it. I like garlic in almost any soup, especially Italian-inspired ones. I came up with a very acceptable soup that I ate ladled on top of the toasted focaccia bread (previously frozen) which I put into a bowl. It was pretty good. I intend to make this a regular meal whenever I have bread on hand. It's satisfying with the beans and bread and I can have a second bowl without worrying about my diet.

I don't really like adding the bread to the soup before it's in the bowl because it disintegrates and loses all its good texture. After all, that's the main challenge of gluten-free bread, getting enough chewy texture into it without the wheat gluten. Why would I ever want to by-pass that when I've succeeded in getting it?

I'm not providing the recipe because I think I can make it better with some more tweaking. When I have, I will put it up. I've heard this described as a winter soup, so I guess I have enough time to perfect it. But, for me, this soup is as good now as any time of year. I can see changing it to add seasonal ingredients and enjoying it year 'round.

Also thought you might like to know that the focaccia freezes beautifully; the texture may even be better. I sliced the remaining loaf about 2/3 inch thick and popped it into the freezer. To eat it I just took out however many slices I needed and popped them into the toaster oven for about 5-10 minutes. Chewy. Nice.

I think this may be the start of a new passion. More and bigger and better gluten-free breads (probably with sourdough) here I come!

05 August, 2007

Sourdough Gluten-free Foccacia (Not Vegan)

I love bread. I am allergic to wheat. I have tried quite a few gluten-free recipes but was unable to get the flours I needed in Japan. The breads I made were all a disappointment. Though they tasted sort of okay, the texture was just plain weird, more like crumbly cake than chewy bread. I have been eating toasted mochi and rice and trying not to think about tomato sandwiches and bread dipped into soup, and pizza. When I get desperate for the taste of bread I make pancakes, which are quite nice gluten-free. But now, at last, from Foreign Buyers Club, I have got a hold of Kinnikinnick Company's Kinni-Kwik Bread and Bun Mix. I can have bread.

So on the weekend I set out to make pizza , but there on my kitchen table was a pot of sourdough I had mixed up a few days earlier. One smell and I suddenly wanted it in my bread. So I switched to making a foccacia bread, halfway through mixing up the pizza recipe in Betty Hagman's The Gluten-free Gourmet Bakes Bread book. I ended up with a too-high-to-be-foccacia but foccacia-tasting bread. It is the first gluten-free bread that I have ever enjoyed. Sometimes accidents are happy.

This bread has texture similar to a sourdough rye bread I used to make for years for my family. It is dense and has a just slightly mellow taste. It has a good crust. It has bite and chew, though a little less than bread made with wheat. After not eating bread for about 4 months (gluten-free is unavailable in Japan) I feel blessed by the grain goddess. I am happy. My diet may be in trouble.

To make this foccacia-style bread I followed the recipe for pizza dough in Bette Hagman's book but I added 2 Tb olive oil. I added about a Tb. of kantan and instead of yeast used 2 cups of a young sourdough starter, made with 1/2 cup brown rice flour and 1 & 3/4 cups Kinni-Kwik mix flour, 2 cups of water and a pinch of powdered yeast, mixed up and allowed to sit for a day or two on my warm counter. I used almond meal as the "protein" element. When I added the Kinni-Kwik mix (substituting for Betty's Mix) 1/2 cup of the flour was brown rice flour. It made the loaf much more whole-grainy and light brown in colour. I might try to increase the proportion of brown rice flour next time as I love whole grain bread. I didn't beat this bread with the mixer as it called for in the recipe. I gave it about 1 minute of mixing with a fork just until it was smooth and a bit springy. It was a thick creamy batter rather than a kneadable dough. I poured and spooned it onto a pan prepared with cornmeal, to keep it from sticking, smoothed the top with a wet spoon and sprinkled on the topping. I broke up the Rosemary, freshly picked in my own garden, into small sprigs and stuck them all over the top.

I made the recipe for two crusts but it came up very high. Next time I would make a single batch, especially since I have such a tiny oven. The bread cooks at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes. If you make it in one of the small Japanese ovens (not microwave) keep a watch and start checking at about 25 minutes. Everything cooks much more quickly in these ovens. I think the bread stales quickly so a small batch is definitely better unless you're making it for a crowd. I might try freezing it and see how that works.

I made a simple topping of chopped almonds, a bit of salt, nutritional yeast and garlic powder to mimic parmesan and I sprinkled a small amount of the oil and fresh rosemary sprigs on top. If you eat cheese I'm sure real parmesan would be lovely.

I've been enjoying it for two days now, in small pieces for almost every meal. I've had it for breakfast with black coffee. I have spilt it in half and made grilled tomato and tofu sandwiches. Now to see if I can find a good recipe for stale bread. It's a "problem" I never thought I'd have again. Maybe a nice Italian bread soup. Anyone have a recipe?

01 August, 2007

My First Meme: 8 Random Things About Myself

Thanks to (Super)Seamaiden of The Book of Yum, which is full of entirely TOO yummy food since I'm on a diet, I'm particpating in a blog game, which everybody but me is already sick of (I hear). Leave it to me to be in on the tail end of any fad, except for a few fashion fads I'll mention later.

And lest anyone accuse me of being boring remember I'm a teacher and some of my students read this blog, along with my (grown -up) kids, and for good measure fellow teachers in Japan, who I already have an eye-rolling relationship with due to my impassioned contributions to a teaching forum (which shall remain nameless, to protect the not-so-innocent -- me). There are some things you just don't want to know about your mother, at least until you're about 50 and get some mature "chill".

So, for those of you not already asleep here are 8 earth-shaking and shattering random facts about me:

1. My grandmother is my heroine and role model. I spent many summers days with her camping and picking blueberries and raspberries which she made into delicious pies and jam. She let me cut the holes out of the homemade potato dough-nuts when I had to get on a chair to reach the table. She is my Kitchen Goddess, now in The Great Cucina in the Sky. I miss her.

2. We had a pet deer for about 8 months, rescued from the forest by my grandfather because the mother had died. I fed him from a baby bottle. He ran around in the forest near our house and came when my grandmother called his name at night. When he had to go to the National Park I cried and cried.

3. I grew up in a village with more fish than people, with the sweet air of the Atlantic ocean in my lungs as I walked the 1-mile stretch to school and back four times a day. No diet then.

4. I was the first in my village to sport short white go-go boots a la Carnaby style. Yes, they smarted on those 4 miles to and from school.

5. I went to Art School for a year where I learned that nobody can teach you art.

6. My first love was unrequited by a boy who reasoned he liked D better "because she wears three crinolines"( I only had one). That's how old I am and how stupid the boys were in Grade Three.

7. I'm a bookworm. I'd rather read sublime poetry than win a million dollars. If I could write a great poem I would die happy.

8. I want to go to India, as soon as possible. I need a travel companion.

Jeez. Seems more like a personals ad, doesn't it? And scarily, I just realized I could make a lot longer list. But I"ll give you a break, dear reader. Thanks for listening!

I'm supposed to post the "rules " here which are that you should tag 8 more people, let them know and and ask them to tag 8 others, then respond with a post on "Eight Random Things About Myself". I'm pretty new to blogging; I mostly hang out at blogs that actually don't really do memes, so I'm only tagging a few people. If you've done it one too many times before, or have nothing to say about yourself, I understand. Please don't hate/hurt me.

Julia of The Survivalguide for Vegetarians (Not Only) in Tokyo (new blog with great food, mostly in Tokyo.)

Darla of Messy Cucina (who is studying/ thinking about the connections between women and food and has a great reading list for that on her blog.)

Kpounder of Veggie Friendly (now travelling in Greece with food pictures to die for. I'm jealous.)